Two things that give enormous amounts of pleasure to many of us are food and drink. With the food side of things sorted and a credit crunch in full swing, I decided to head back to the brewing for a little midwinter madness.
With a copy of “The Alaskan bootleggers bible” in hand I climbed into bed one evening to immerse myself in the words of Leon W. Kania; a salt of the earth Alaskan fellow who, in his introduction, describes the typical pioneer types that inhabit the harsh environment that is Alaska:
“A classic example is the story of the toothless old sourdough who not only killed the bear but also used its teeth to make a set of dentures to eat it with, I know a number of folk, both men and women who would put Robinson Crusoe to shame”.
Immediately I felt a tinge of excitement, this was clearly my type of book! Reading on I came across a paragraph peppered with disappointingly overenthusiastic American tosh (please apply an American accent to the next sentence, I like to use a deep south one myself):
“As you’ll learn in this book, making your own booze is not all that difficult. Is it legal? Beer and wine, yes. Whiskey? No! Is it done? Sure!”
Still, I read on and found myself strangely warming to this chap, he certainly new his stuff when it came to brewing, and I clearly didn’t. The following day a few supplies from my brew-master generals at the Art of brewing arrived; a cider kit, a pair of demijohns and a couple of airlocks in a box that was much bigger than necessary.
I must point out that this kit wasn’t cider creation as I would like it; the ‘kit’ comes in an oversized baked bean can branded as ‘Samson’ with one of the best slogans scrawled across the bottom- “a brew as strong as its name with the body to match”. All thats needed is the 6g of yeast that comes with, 1kg of granulated sugar and obviously water to make this brew of biblical proportions.
The reason for all this production is to better understand how brewing works, as they say practice makes perfect and if I am to begin my wild brewing this spring, I have no intention of sipping my first pint of nettle beer or glugging back on some elderflower champagne only to spend the rest of the evening talking to god down the big white porcelain telephone. So you see, one must learn how to walk before doing the 100m sprint.
Learning about the way in which water is made into wine (so to speak) is very addictive, after a few chapters of the bootleggers bible; I was well and truly hooked. Along with the success of my ’Hopping Mad’ beer last year I was eager to keep my hand in the game, so I decided to look to apple juice and all things related for inspiration.
Down in the cellar, I managed to dig out my 5-gallon brewers bucket (honestly you would be amazed at some of the things I have stashed down there), inside, along with all the paraphernalia from my beer production, there was a 200g sachet of some sort of yeast. As was revealed on the packet this was no ordinary yeast, this was Alcotec 8 turbo yeast- capable of transforming 8 kgs of sugar and 25 litres of water into something devilishly strong in 5 days! I had to have a play around with this stuff.
The only good thing to come out of my frankly disappointing trip to Whole foods in High Street Kensington (which I hear is closing down by the way) was a 1 litre bottle of Duskin Pure English Braeburn Apple juice, this seemed as good a subject for experimentation as anything else I could think of, so here goes…
The most important weapon in the home brewer’s armoury is the hydrometer. This device will measure the amount of Sugar in the brew, it will let you know when fermentation has finished and will even tell you the alcohol content. Clever. All this is achieved by measuring the specific gravity (SG).
I began by measuring the amount of sugar and super yeast needed for 1 litre of apple juice, turned out it was 8g of yeast (bear in mind 6g of yeast is used to make 5 gallons of beer!), the apple juice already had a sugar content of 130g, I needed to add 190g of sugar to achieve 320g so the yeast had enough sugar to break down.
All this was mixed up in a demijohn and a hydrometer reading was taken (1.100), then the airlock was fitted and the brew was left well alone. Nothing happened for 3 days, then it went mental and bubbled away every 5 seconds- apparently this was due to the massive amount of air left in the demijohn, first mistake!
On the 8th day, things had calmed down and I took a reading (once below 0.998 the fermentation has finished and the brew is ready for bottling- basically, it wont blow up). The reading was 0.990- so I bottled it and then did some mathematics to calculate the potential alcohol content…
By taking the initial SG and the final SG you can calculate the drop in gravity and multiply this by a factor of 129, why its 129 I don’t know. I had a drop of 110, therefore 110 x 129= 14,190. So, in short I had made a 14.2% brew. Strong stuff indeed.
After a couple of weeks, feeling adventurous, I went down to the cellar to sample my atomic apple juice. I had wrapped it in a thick plastic bag and placed it in an old flip top bin to contain any shrapnel had it decided to explode, thankfully it hadn’t.
As I cracked off the top it fizzed and a mysterious haze poured out the top, I felt like Dr Jekyll and no doubt this stuff would probably turn me into Mr Hyde. The deceiving thing was that it still looked like Duskin Apple juice (I had put it back in the original bottle), I lifted the bottle to my lips and said a few quiet words; it was strong, very strong, fizzy in the mouth, slightly apple-y and really quite disgusting- the experiment was a failure. But on the upside, I had learned a lot more and I had brewed a monster!
‘Jackin’ as the Americans put it, is really so cunning you could build a house with it. Basically, it involves little else but freezing your desired Alcoholic beverage- in this case cider. By freezing the cider the water and alcohol are separated, in the same way you would reduce something on a hob to intensify it, you are doing the same with the cider. Frequently done in Alaska’s frigid temperatures on purpose or by accident, the closest we can get in this country is to use the freezer.
I must point out that ‘jackin’ is actually illegal, but I doubt the old bill would bother knocking on your door for having a couple of pints of cider in the freezer. After reading about this I felt I would give it a go, so into the freezer went a 2-pint carton of New Forest cider I had acquired at Borough market.
The following day it looked as if the whole thing had frozen. Balls. Only upon opening the carton did I realise it may have worked…
I placed the carton upside down and left it outside to drain. After an hour I was left with about ½ a pint of reduced cider and a carton of ice. I poured a little of the Applejack into an old fashioned glass for closer inspection. The cider whiff was more pungent than ever, yet smelt sweeter, swirling the liquor in the glass I noticed it threw lines like you wouldn’t believe. If liquor throws lines (leaves a thin residue/film on the side of the glass when swirled) it means that it has a high alcohol content, as a rule of thumb, the thicker the film, the stronger the rocket fuel.
It was very sweet, very strong and left that wonderful warming feeling in the throat that you get from having a tot of whisky or brandy. It was, I suppose, apple brandy, but hardly Calvados. The problem with jacking is that you only freeze out the water; all other impurities are left behind, so this stuff is not really the healthiest of alcoholic beverages (if there are ANY). What began as 7% cider was now in the region of 14-16% or more.
If you’re going to do this, don’t use Magners or Stongbow or any of that rubbish; use proper Cider that is flat. I don’t think I would make a habit out of ‘jackin’ stuff, but it was well worth the limited time and effort, even if I don’t drink-it should make a fantastic pairing with pork.
After all of this messing about in the Kitchen/lab it was time to try something that would work- the cider kit. Made in the same way as my beer and then left to ferment in the corner of the kitchen. This time I took the SG readings at the start and finish and by the time bottling came around and my GCSE maths was put to work, I had a pleasant cider of about 5.8%.
Two weeks after bottling, on a relaxed Friday evening, I decided to make a small dent in the 40 pints lurking in the cellar. It tasted like cider, only slightly watered down, I felt that perhaps the hydrometer had lied to me or my mathematic ability had reduced to primary school level. 3 bottles later, about 6 pints, I concluded that the hydrometer had not lied and we were now heading out the front door in search of some nocturnal revelry.
Perhaps my brewing is getting better?